A melancholy pattern reasserts itself in "Steal Big, Steal Little" -- the one about the director who finally hits the big time and as his reward gets to make any movie he wants. So he hauls out his dream project, the movie he's been fantasizing about making all these years; the movie that got him in the film business in the first place.
When the film is finally released, he learns why everyone said no to him for all those years. Barry Levinson learned all about it with "Toys." William Friedkin did with "Sorcerer." Michael Cimino did with "Heaven's Gate." Even the mighty Spielberg came a-cropper in "1941."
Now it's Andrew Davis' turn. To put it another way, "Steal Big, Steal Little" is pretty much an absolute, mind-boggling disaster for Davis, a competent hack who did very well his last time out with "The Fugitive." It won't do Andy Garcia any good either, even though he's in every single scene, usually twice.
In the first place, when are filmmakers going to realize that the movie magic by which one actor can be two on-screen characters and talk to himself is of very little point unless what they say is of interest? The two Andys are so conventionally imagined and so unsurprising that their frequent encounters are the dullest things in the movie.
Good Andy is the earnest liberal man of the people who, inheriting his adoptive mother's glorious 25,000 acre ranch in Santa Barbara, Calif., means to turn it into a kind of commune for the workers of the world. You can tell he's virtuous. He wears a little pork pie hat and his clothes don't fit.
Meanwhile Bad Andy, in Armani suits with enough mousse in his hair to float the Iranian navy, is slinking about in the presence of big-ticket white guys, also in suits and mousse, with the idea of raping the land by tossing the workers off the ranch and subdividing it into a real estate development.
The politics are that simple: Suits and ties, BAD; ill-fitting clothes, GOOD. When did it turn back into 1967, by the way?
If only this made a little bit of narrative sense, it might have a chance of working -- for the retro-hippie set if no one else. But the film's story is fractured into shards and fragments strewn loosely throughout its very long two hours. The present of the movie appears to be an interview being conducted after a protest failure by Good Andy and his pal Alan Arkin as they review the things that have gotten them to this fine mess.
As a method this almost never works: The film bobs and weaves through the past, and sometimes flashbacks are placed within flashback until the thing has lost all semblance of sense. You're never sure whose head you're in.
Now and then Davis' skills assert themselves. He is, after all, an outstanding action director (besides "Fugitive" he did "Above the Law" with Steven Segal and "The Package" with Gene Hackman). One long sequence at the halfway mark watches as the Border Patrol raids the ranch in order to arrest the few illegals on the work crew, and Davis throws together a first-rate sequence, tracking back and forth between the fleeing workers, the mounted border patrolman and Garcia himself, heroically trying to save one of the men.
But shortly thereafter, you can see how chaotic the film is organized. This big deal sequence, which must have cost close to a million and taken two weeks to film, turns out to mean absolutely nothing in story sense. It's just pointless hubbub.
'Steal Big, Steal Little'
Starring Andy Garcia and Alan Arkin
Directed by Andrew Davis
Released by Savoy
Rated PG-13 (some violence, sexual situations)